Home Photography How to Photograph the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)

How to Photograph the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)

by kyngsam

Wish to know methods to {photograph} the northern lights?

On this article, I’m going to share loads of northern lights pictures ideas and tips – so that you could seize beautiful aurora photographs of your personal.

This recommendation comes from numerous expertise; I’ve had the pleasure of watching and photographing the northern lights, also called the aurora borealis, for years (and I nonetheless discover myself shouting in awe after I see them elegantly dancing within the sky!).

So for those who’re able to turn out to be an professional, then let’s get began.

Tips on how to see the northern lights

Step one in photographing the northern lights is, clearly, discovering them. It’s merely not doable to see the aurora every time and wherever you need – you should be in the fitting area and comply with a number of easy steps, as I focus on under:

1. Be within the Northern Hemisphere

The northern lights aren’t seen everywhere in the world. Because the title signifies, they’re a phenomenon seen within the Northern Hemisphere. 

Locations reminiscent of northern Norway, Iceland, and Alaska are typical areas you may witness the northern lights.

Whilst you typically wish to be north of the Arctic Circle (or near it), you may witness the lights additional south throughout excessive photo voltaic storms. However this isn’t as frequent and the show isn’t as spectacular in comparison with “northern” northern lights.

When planning your journey to the north, you’ll must bear another truth in thoughts:

The northern lights season lasts from late fall to early spring. In spite of everything, northern lights are solely seen within the night time sky, and within the Arctic, the solar doesn’t set through the summer time months – so there’s no darkness and no northern lights.

the northern lights over the ocean

2. Get away from mild air pollution

It’s almost unimaginable to see the northern lights from the downtown of a big metropolis. You may catch a glimpse if the northern lights are sturdy, however the show received’t be almost as spectacular as for those who depart town lights behind.

To extend your probabilities of capturing the northern lights, you must get away from light pollution and discover a location the place you may clearly see the celebrities.

There are a number of totally different instruments you should utilize to search out areas with minimal mild air pollution. Dark Sky is a good web site for this objective; it exhibits an in depth map of sunshine air pollution.

the northern lights over ice

3. Search for clear skies (and a excessive Kp-index)

With the intention to see the northern lights, it’s worthwhile to see the stars – so cloudy nights aren’t good for aurora borealis pictures. If the sky is cloudy, you may as effectively benefit from the consolation of a heat cabin.

Fortuitously, once you’re north of the Arctic Circle, clear nights sometimes imply you will get a glimpse of the northern lights. The show may not all the time be sturdy, however chances are high excessive that you simply’ll no less than get a pleasant arch throughout the horizon. 

Needless to say climate circumstances change shortly within the Northern Hemisphere. Simply because it’s cloudy one second doesn’t imply it’ll be cloudy in an hour, so you must hold a detailed eye on the forecast and stick your head exterior once in a while. 

Additionally, a fast tip: To foretell the aurora show power, seek advice from the Kp-index. Observe that the upper the Kp-index, the stronger the show. (There are different elements concerned in predicting the northern lights, however the Kp-index is the simplest and most handy.)

the northern lights over a mountain

Tips on how to {photograph} the northern lights

When you’ve discovered the northern lights, how do you really {photograph} them? It’s simple to get overly excited and neglect concerning the technicalities – in any case, the northern lights are stunningly stunning – however I urge you to check the subsequent few steps so that you simply’re as ready as doable when the sky explodes.

1. Use a tripod and a distant shutter launch

Photographing at night time implies that you’re working with long exposures (i.e., sluggish shutter speeds). It’s subsequently important that you simply mount the digital camera on a tripod. This may be sure that your digital camera stays nonetheless throughout the publicity.

You also needs to think about using a remote shutter release once you’re photographing the northern lights. This removes any probability of the vibrations brought on once you press the shutter.

An alternate is to make use of the digital camera’s self-timer – however generally you wish to seize the picture at an actual second with no delay, which is why I extremely advocate a distant launch.

the moon and the aurora borealis

2. Use a wide-angle lens with a big aperture

I typically encourage photographers to experiment with totally different focal lengths, however there’s no getting round it: an ultra-wide-angle lens is good for photographing the northern lights. 

A large-angle lens means that you can seize each the landscape and the sky in a single shot. That approach, you may incorporate the northern lights into a great composition.

Additionally, once you first expertise the northern lights, you’ll notice that they will refill the complete sky. It’s unimaginable to seize all this magnificence with a slender focal size lens (actually, even wide-angle glass isn’t all the time sufficient!).

It’s additionally essential to use the widest doable aperture. A large aperture means extra mild reaches the sensor, permitting for a brighter publicity.

For that purpose, apertures reminiscent of f/2 and f/2.Eight work effectively for night time images. You may get away with f/Four in case your lens doesn’t open to f/2.8 – however you’ll want to extend the ISO or lengthen the shutter pace to drag it off, neither of that are nice for northern lights pictures.

aurora borealis over a river

3. Regulate the shutter pace and ISO in line with the northern lights

Guides such because the 500 rule or the NPF rule are nice indicators of the shutter pace you must use for night time pictures – however these don’t work for northern lights.


As a result of one of the best shutter pace utterly will depend on how energetic the northern lights are. I’ve skilled excessive shows the place I’m utilizing a 1/2s shutter pace and an ISO of 200, but I’m nonetheless overexposing the sky!

Due to this fact, it’s worthwhile to adapt the shutter pace to the state of affairs and make modifications all through the night time. I sometimes use a shutter pace between Four and 20 seconds. 

Now, a fast-moving northern lights show requires a sooner shutter pace. The intense mild transferring throughout the sky will shortly get overexposed. However when the show is slower, you get away with an extended shutter pace.

The ISO additionally will depend on how vibrant the night time sky is. I sometimes use a worth between ISO 1600 and ISO 6400. That mentioned, on uncommon events, I am going all the way in which all the way down to ISO 200.

I’ll admit that it does require some expertise to get your settings proper from the very starting. However regulate the picture preview between each few photographs, and also you’ll study precisely what to regulate for nice outcomes.

the aurora borealis over a mountain how to photograph the northern lights

4. Use a chilly white steadiness (3000-4000Ok)

I do know that the white balance technically doesn’t matter for those who’re capturing in RAW, however I’m somebody who prefers to make the picture look nearly as good as doable in-camera.

So when photographing the northern lights, keep away from utilizing Auto White Balance or preset modes. Whereas these usually do an awesome job through the day, they’re much less constant at night time. You may get some okay outcomes with Auto White Steadiness, but it surely received’t all the time work.

I like to recommend that you simply set the white steadiness manually – use Kelvin mode and selected a worth someplace between 3000Ok and 4000Ok. This may produce a colder and extra natural-looking sky.

(Utilizing values above 4000Ok makes the inexperienced within the northern lights look muddy and unusual, which is one thing you wish to keep away from.)

purple and green aurora borealis how to photograph the northern lights

5. Deliver one thing heat to drink!

The winter nights within the Northern Hemisphere will be fairly chilly and depressing. It’s important that you simply keep heat once you’re exterior ready for the northern lights. Good garments (and a number of other layers) assist quite a bit, but it surely’s additionally good to deliver a thermos with a heat drink.

When you get too chilly, it’s exhausting to remain motivated. Particularly for those who’re planning to shoot for some time or make a timelapse.

Tips on how to {photograph} the northern lights: conclusion

Now that you simply’ve completed this text, try to be well-equipped to {photograph} the northern lights.

That mentioned, if you wish to study extra about northern lights pictures – so you can begin creating photos like these on this article, quick – I extremely advocate my course, Northern Lights Photography Made Easy. I educate all of the necessities of capturing and processing beautiful photos of the night time sky’s most superb function. So take a look at the course here!

how to photograph the northern lights

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